When buying a new cast iron skillet, season it by oiling it and then heating it up. To clean it, it's best to scrub it with salt rather than soap. Prices start at $10 to $15.
A bamboo steamer is another workhorse that offers the ability to steam more than one layer of food simply by stacking the steam trays on a pot of water. Pot stickers and veggies come together easily with this stackable sensation for as little as $15.
While a food processor is fast, a mortar and pestle can release much more flavor through the grinding, crushing, mashing motion. It's perfect for pesto, pulverizing garlic and herbs, just by pushing down on the pestle and twisting over and over again. They're easy to use and clean, and they start at $25.
Another cheap tool with ample uses is the box grater often found at the grocery store or places like Wal-Mart and Target. Each side of the box offers the ability to grate with purpose. Tiny holes are for ginger or nutmeg, medium holes are for hard cheeses and larger ones are for mozzarella-type, softer cheeses. The slicing blade can be used to create thin slices of cucumber or zucchini.
Also, don't discount the old slow cooker. Starting at $20, the so-called crock pots from the 70s are back. It's a perfect tool to make inexpensive cuts of meat or the whole bird tender by cooking on low real slow. It's also handy for breakfast. You can let oatmeal cook overnight and have it ready by morning.
Parchment paper is another old-school tool that hasn't gone out of fashion for many foodies. This paper makes cleanup a cinch, but when food is wrapped in parchment paper, it provides its own little steamer, allowing food to cook quickly while retaining moisture. It's another inexpensive product that you'lll find at the market.